This past weekend was Jamie’s legendary ‘ButtonBox’ Weekend – held at the beautiful ‘ButtonBox’ Campground on ButtonBox Lake near Togo, Minnesota.
On Thursday morning a large group (probably about 14 teams) headed out of Jamie’s place – after 8 miles a few of the teams splintered off for a 12 – mile run to the Campground while the remainder of us continued on down the trail. The plan was for us to go out 20 miles to a nice meadow Jamie knows (and where we camped last year) and spend the night. However, within sight of the meadow, we ran into a little snag – it seems that the gully we cross to get there had washed out over the summer and we ended up having to make do camping in a slightly muddy clearing. The dogs didn’t mind much – especially when we cut some pine boughs and made them cozy little beds!!
After setting up camp and getting a meal into humans and dogs we kicked around the campfire for several hours, telling stories and laughing. By the time we headed for bed it was dark, although an almost full moon (somewhat obscured by clouds) made it possible to see. As I was about to crawl into the tent I stopped to take it all in – a spot by a running river, bathed in moonlight; dogs teams nested in the tall grass or snuggled into the pine bough beds; the coals from a warm fire still glowing; headlamps from friends moving around settling themselves in for the night and the fabulous glow of colored tents lit from the inside – how can anyone ever wonder why I choose to live the life I do!
Young dogs, not yet experienced at camping on the trail made for a fairly short night and restless sleep. With only 3 ‘rookie’ dogs (Olena, Denali, and Nahanni) on my team I was spared having to leap out of my sleeping bag in the middle of the night to check on dogs – and I may have been the only one that lucky!! At 4 am, Jamie and I gave up on sleeping. We restarted the fire from the leftover coals (thank goodness – big, competent distance mushers we are – she had a lighter that was out of fuel and neither of us had matches!) and cooked some leftovers for an early breakfast. As we puttered about discussing race plans for the upcoming season it started to snow. We quickly packed up the tent and our four-wheeler before all our gear got too wet. By 9 am everyone was up, dogs were fed, campsites cleaned up and we were on the way on our 24-mile run to the ButtonBox campground.
I had been very pleased with the way my team had run on Thursday’s run, but Friday’s was even better. Led by Camilla and Orion the team put in a solid run that only heightened my (cautious) excitement about this upcoming race season.
Many more teams, including folks from Michigan, Wisconsin, and even California, were already at the campground when we arrived. Quickly we were settled in and all enjoying a big potluck dinner!
Almost everyone headed out for a night run after dinner. It was really neat to look over your shoulder and see a long string of lights from headlamps and four – wheelers winding through the trees behind. After about 7 miles, Jamie and I splintered off from the main group and headed back to her place. Our plan was to spend the night there returning early in the morning with teams that included the remaining 9 dogs from our main strings – we didn’t want anyone missing out on the terrific training experience!! We were back just in time the next day to hook up with everyone for a morning run. That night we all got together for another run – this time Jamie and I stayed. The weekend wrapped up with breakfast on Sunday and a nice run back to Jamie’s place.
Today will be a day off for the dogs and then Jamie and I are thinking of doing another overnight trip on Tuesday to check out some trail we hope to use for the ‘Big Falls’ Run next weekend!
The dogs are all doing very well. The 2 year olds, with perhaps the exception of Kluane are fabulous. Olena, in particular had a BLAST camping!
I do have one bit of dog news that I have been stalling on sharing – Butchie has been cut from the main string. Our very first run here in Togo Jamie commented that 8 year old Butch was looking old. That had never really even occurred to me, but as I watched him through her eyes on the rest of the run – I could see it. His gait is just not as smooth and effortless and it was in past years and he has some trouble keeping up when the speed picks up too much. I talked to Mark and he was not surprised – he said he thought he could see it on runs at home too – seems that I was the only one blinded by sentimentality. Cutting Butchie is the end of an era for me – he was the only dog on my main string that has done ‘it all’. His ‘rookie’ race was the 1996 Race to the Sky. He was dropped that time, but never again – he has completed every race I have. It’s not like he hasn’t left us anything to fill his paw prints – Draco, Orion, Surge, and Squeaky are all main string ‘Sons of Butch’s’ – but I will miss him. Butch is hanging out here and leading some puppy teams for Jamie to keep himself amused for the remainder of our trip – he will do the same for us when he gets back to Alberta. I figure Butch and I have traveled over 10,000 miles together in harness over the years – he has thoroughly earned his retirement. Mark and I hope it is a long one.
All for today!